Sports are wonderful extracurricular activities for children. They help kids of all ages improve their communication and teamwork abilities, while also helping them to unplug from their digital devices and enjoy a more active lifestyle. But while sports offer many benefits to children, they can also pose health risks, including the risk of concussion.
Today, the majority of childhood concussions occur during sports practice or games, particularly football, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, and field hockey. While concussions can also occur from a fall or bicycle accident, athletes and their parents especially need to be aware of the dangers of a concussion, what symptoms to watch for, and what to do next.
Understanding Concussions: The What, The Why, And The How
The term “concussion” refers to a specific type of traumatic brain injury, usually mild in nature. Concussions occur when an accident or injury makes the head forcefully move back and forth - so much so that the brain moves and bounces within the skull. This can be from a direct blow to the head or a bodily injury that causes jarring head movements.
This type of movement of the brain leads to the stretching and damaging of brain cells. And this damage then causes chemical and cellular changes in the brain.
A concussion is classified as 'mild' because it is not usually life-threatening. However, the effects of a concussion can be serious and last for days, weeks, or even longer.
Recognizing Concussions: The Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of a concussion may include any combination of the following:
- Nausea or vomiting
- Balance problems or dizziness
- Double or blurry vision
- Sensitivity to light or noise
- Feeling sluggish, groggy or dazed
- Difficulty paying attention
- Memory problems
- Slowness in understanding and responding to others
- Sleep problems
- Mood changes
- Changes in behavior
- Changes in personality
Some concussion symptoms can appear within minutes of the blow to the head, while some symptoms may take several hours or days to appear. Other symptoms can develop only when the brain is stressed by such activities as reading or running.
Most head injuries and concussions can be evaluated in the office by your pediatrician. Serious reasons to be seen in the emergency room include loss of consciousness, a neck injury, discharge or blood from the nose or an ear, recurrent vomiting, weakness or numbness, unusual behavior or confusion, lethargic, or progressive and worsening symptoms.
Treating Concussions: The Appropriate Next Steps
The majority of concussions are mild and allow for complete recovery. The sooner a concussion is diagnosed and a care plan is made, the faster a child can recover. To help this process, children should rest from both physical and mental (cognitive) activities for at least 24 hours after a concussion initially occurs. During this time, an initial assessment with a doctor to determine the next steps is crucial.
Children should then return to activities gradually as their symptoms allow. This means some adjustments may be needed in the classroom, including a lighter course load or a shortened school day. Once daily activities and school are resumed with minimal symptoms, a return-to-sports plan can be developed.
If children return to sports and other activities too early, concussion symptoms can recur and will often prolong recovery. To ensure this doesn’t happen, it’s important to work with coaches, teachers, and doctors to develop a clear plan.
It’s also critical that children with a recent concussion never return to their sports practices or games until they have been cleared by a medical professional. Should any physical or mental activity cause recurrent or worsening symptoms, your child will need to take breaks - not power through the symptoms.
Treating Concussions: How We Can Help
While no parent wants their child to suffer a concussion, it is always a risk for our athletes and active children. If you suspect that your child may have a concussion based on this information, please don’t hesitate to contact our team.
Capital Area Pediatrics can help answer your questions and assist your family in addressing concussion care. All of our offices offer specialized concussion evaluations, ensuring that your family only needs to visit the ER in a true emergency. This service will also allow your family to ask questions and develop a long-term, specialized treatment plan in the event that concussion care is needed.
Want to learn more or schedule an appointment? Find your nearest location and give our staff a call today.